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New Zealand has long been noted for providing the world with rugby players, sheep jokes, Phar Lap, Pavlova and Frodo Baggins. What is less known is its rich history of motor racing and a small but innovative automotive industry.

The restoration of this Mistral sports car is not only a chance to preserve a piece of automotive history; it is also a tribute to Kiwi ingenuity and an opportunity to revive the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s when New Zealand ingenuity was able to take a gorgeous but seriously underpowered cast-off from the motherland and turn it into a fleet footed sports car that anyone would be proud to have in their collection.

This particular Mistral has a long personal connection to us, so when the opportunity arose to undertake a restoration project that had its roots back in the 1980s, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Since restoration projects are inevitability driven from the heart rather than from the head, there was no other option than for us to move to a new country before trying to project manage the restoration of this unique, low production, previously modified vehicle. To do it any differently would have been far too easy!

The Story So Far….

 

1985 – Chassis Rebuild

The car was purchased in this year. The car was purchased complete less an engine.

Given the intent to race the Mistral, the first thing that needed to be done was to strengthen the chassis. This was built from steel box section and modified to fit the length of the body.

1985 – 327 Chev Engine

A Chev 327 Engine was mounted to the rebuilt chassis

Arguably the sweetest of the small block Chev engines, the 327 was the preferred choice for this project. Performance was a modest 250 BHP in standard form but with an almost unlimited catalogue of bolt on performance options available, the sky is the limit for developing this power plant.

Power was made usable via the hot rodder’s choice of the 80s, a Muncie 4 speed gearbox.

 

1985 – Rear Rebuild

The rear was rebuilt with a new petrol tank that would comply with NZ racing regulations of the time.

Another icon of 1980s hot rodding; the ubiquitous Ford 9″ diff assisted the rubber to meet the road.

 

1986 – Body Changes

Given that a 327 Chev engine was now extending beyond the confines of the body, some serious body reinforcement and fibre glassing was undertaken

Every little bit of strength was needed as “drive” day came closer.

The pretty side scoops were originally designed as air vents as the original Mistral was intended to be fitted with an air cooled flat four engine. Thankfully this never eventuated and we were left with one of the prettiest kit cars to come out of the 1950s.

As a point of interest, the first TVR, (the Jomar) had bodywork based on two Mistral front ends.

 

1986 – First Test Drive

It was all back together and ready to take out for a drive

The car made its street debut mid 1986. After a period of further development, fine tuning and a fresh red paint scheme, it was finally road registered in New Zealand late 1986.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the car was put into storage for the nearly 25 years until it was offered to the current owners as a restoration project. The original idea was to restore it back to its intended hot rod status however, as time has moved on since those days, the decision was made to restore it as a practical period machine with a Rover V8 taking the place of the Chev. This still allows plenty of power when needed however the power could be said is more “sensible” that the original engine. Modern gearbox and diff options allows for a lighter and safer drive train than was originally used.

 

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Car Specifications

The English had a unique ability to build beautiful looking cars and then leave them woefully underpowered. When such cars were sent to the antipodes, inevitably the largest, most powerful engine available was fitted to move swiftly from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The original British Mistral was fitted with a 36 BHP Ford side valve engine. Kiwi’s fitted an Elva racing overhead inlet valve conversion kit to this engine to bring the up to a heady 65 BHP giving a claimed top speed of over 110MPH (177kph).

Later, a Christchurch NZ manufacturer who makes domestic trailers, built a handful of Mistrals using Chev 350 engines with a redesigned front end to make the car more “Cobra” like.

A specialist builder, also in Christchurch, has a set of moulds and has built a number of Mistrals primarily for classic car racing. Road going versions are also available from him.

The project car shown here was fitted with a Chev 327 small block engine producing around 250 BHP in standard trim. The restoration project is swapping this engine for a more respectable Rover 3.5L V8 producing 160 BHP in standard form. This represents a mere five fold increase in power from original. Far more respectable!

1959 Mistral 1985 Modified Proposed
Engine Ford 100E Chev 327 Rover 3.5V8
Power 36 BHP (Elva OHV conversion 65 BHP) 250 BHP 160 BHP
Chassis Twin tube custom Modified As per 1985
Gearbox Ford 10 Muncie 4 speed Toyota 5 speed
Diff Ford 10 Ford 9″ TBA